Unicorns — the innovative startups with valuations exceeding $1 billion — signal memorable success stories in the dynamic CEE startup ecosystem. But who are the CEE unicorn founders behind some of the region’s most prominent companies?
In our Soonicorns to watch in 2023 article, we have presented the rising Central and Eastern European startup stars reaching for the status. Today, we dive into the stories of founders who have already ticked the unicorn box, highlighting their journeys and achievements.
The article includes founders of the current unicorns in the CEE and SEE region, excluding exited companies. Please, feel free to contact us with updates or companies we should add to the list: [email protected].
SEE & CEE unicorn founders: Mapping
Hristo Borisov - CEO & Co-Founder at Payhawk
With nearly 11 years of experience at Telerik (acquired by Progress), an end-to-end platform simplifying the app development lifecycle, Hristo Borisov has strong product development and market entry background. Since 2018, he has been the CEO and co-founder of Payhawk, a leading European fintech company, raising a historic $100M Series B and becoming Bulgaria’s first unicorn in 2022. Hristo’s expertise drives Payhawk’s success as it integrates credit cards, payments, expenses, cash management, and pre-accounting into one streamlined financial system, serving multinational companies in 32+ countries.
“Never stop trying, and don’t get discouraged if something does not work well in the beginning. Perseverance is the most important factor, next to rooting for yourself and taking risks. We have an internal saying: “When in doubt, risk it.” It is very important that you think about both the big vision and the practical steps to validate that this vision is feasible,” Hristo Borisov shared with The Recursive in an interview.
Boyko Karadzhov - CTO & Co-Founder at Payhawk
Boyko Karadzhov is an experienced technologist and entrepreneur with a background in software development and product innovation, starting his career as a software engineer at Telerik (Progress) for nearly 7 years before co-founding Payhawk. As the CTO at Payhawk, Boyko is responsible for overseeing the company’s technology strategy, product development, and technical operations. Boyko has graduated with a Computer Science degree.
Konstantin Dzhengozov - CFO & Co-Founder at Payhawk
A seasoned finance and investment professional with a tech industry and management consulting background, Konstantin Dzhengozov, co-founded Payhawk together with Hristo Boyko as the company’s CFO. Prior to his founder journey, Konstantin acted as a senior advisor at KPMG, a senior manager at Telerik (Progress), and a venture partner at Eleven Ventures and VTI Capital. He is a strategic thinker focused on helping companies build sustainable models to grow their businesses.
Silvio Kutić - CEO & Co-Founder at Infobip
Silvio Kutić is a seasoned entrepreneur with an early ambition to start his own company. He pursued his Master’s degree at the Faculty of Electrical Engineering and Computing and embarked on the journey of building an omnichannel engagement platform, Infobip, three years after graduation in 2006. Through his strategic direction and determination, Silvio has achieved $1B in revenue within 14 years without external investment. In 2020, Infobip reached a significant milestone, becoming Croatia’s first unicorn, following a successful $200M. Before founding Infobip, Silvio Kutić’s passion for technology led him to create his first project, Virtual Community, utilizing mobile phones for group communications over the web, email, and SMS.
“We are always looking how to give back to our community. To ensure long-term progress – on business, tech and social level – the key link is a quality transfer of knowledge to those who will tomorrow be the bearers of general progress – to the youngest generations,” told Silvio Kutić to The Recursive in regards to supporting Croatian tech ecosystem.
Izabel Jelenic - CTO & Co-Founder at Infobip
Izabel Jelenic is a co-founder of Infobip, actively spearheading the company’s technical aspects. From recruiting skilled experts to designing the in-house platform and ensuring full control over technical features, he has been committed to delivering the best customer experience in the telecommunications industry. Over the years, Izabel has navigated various challenges, from resolving technical issues to handling complex tasks such as SCCP layer snooping, DDoS attacks, and service unbundling. Despite Izabel’s evolving responsibilities, he remains a passionate developer, constantly staying up-to-date with the latest technologies to drive Infobip’s continued growth and success.
Roberto Kutić - COO & Co-Founder at Infobip
Roberto Kutić serves as the COO of Infobip, overseeing the company’s operations to ensure alignment with its strategic vision across all departments. His strength in building teams, understanding global work cultures, and driving business development has been instrumental in fostering Infobip’s exponential growth. Before co-founding Infobip, Roberto worked as a senior manager in the engineering division at Uljanik, one of Croatia’s major shipyards. Roberto holds a Bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Zagreb.
Mate Rimac - CEO & Founder at Rimac Group
The 35-year-old Mate Rimac founded Rimac Automobili, a renowned electric sports car company, nearly 15 years ago, in 2009, and Greyp Bikes, a leading eBike technology company, in 2013. His early passion for electronics and innovation led to multiple accolades in high-school competitions. At 19, Rimac started converting a BMW 3 Series into an electric car, breaking world records for electric vehicles and later unveiling his first all-electric supercar at 23. Rimac’s success has garnered recognition, with Forbes naming him one of the Top 30 Under 30 entrepreneurs globally in 2017. He is also the CEO of Bugatti Rimac and Rimac Technology, a provider of automotive technology solutions to global OEMs. Rimac raised €500M Series D in 2022, putting the company at a valuation of over €2B.
Tomáš Čupr - CEO & Founder at Rohlik
Tomáš Čupr began his career as a programmer in the UK before returning to the Czech Republic in 2010. He is a prominent Czech entrepreneur, founding Slevomat, the largest CEE daily deal company, acquired in 2017, and DameJidlo.cz (now Foodora), the biggest Czech food delivery portal, acquired in 2014. In 2014, Tomáš established Rohlik Group, a grocery delivery company that achieved an ARR growth of €600M by 2021, propelling it to unicorn status after raising a €100M round the same year. He also acted as a partner at an investment group from 2015-2020. Notably, Tomáš has made investments in startups like Twisto (exited) and Keboola, and founded his own investment fund, TCF Capital, in 2023.
Hubert Palán - CEO & Co-Founder at Productboard
Hubert Palán is a seasoned entrepreneur, product maker, mentor, and angel investor. He currently serves as the Founder & CEO of Productboard, a management system bringing the right products to market, raising $125M Series D in 2022 and becoming the country’s second unicorn. He was previously a VP of product management at GoodData. With a background in Computer Science and an MBA from Berkeley, Tomáš’ specializations include product and marketing strategy, lean startup methodologies, user experience design, enterprise SaaS, leadership, and fostering an innovative organizational culture.
Daniel Hejl - CTO & Co-Founder at Productboard
With a Master’s degree in Information and Technology, Daniel Hejl started his software engineer career over 15 years ago, prior to co-founding the US and Czech-based startup Productboard in 2014. As the CTO, Daniel leads and oversees the company’s R&D in the Prague center, playing a pivotal role in shaping Productboard’s growth and recognition in the industry. Notably, the success of Productboard was recognized by Forbes Magazine, which named the company the Czech Republic’s best startup for 2019 and 2020.
Byron Nicolaides - CEO & Founder at PeopleCert
Byron Nicolaides began his career as a top performer at Merrill Lynch. Founding PeopleCert in 2000, he steered the organization’s growth from a local player to a global leader in certifying professional and language skills. Growing revenue from €1M to €75M, PeopleCert has empowered millions of individuals across 215 countries and became the first Greek unicorn in 2021. Beyond his entrepreneurial success, Byron’s commitment to societal impact is evident through his role as President of CEPIS, a prominent organization representing IT professionals from 29 European countries. Sharing his expertise and inspiring other entrepreneurs, he also serves on multiple Boards, guiding and motivating others on their entrepreneurial journeys.
Haris Karonis - CEO & Co-Founder at Viva Wallet
Starting as a Sales & Marketing Manager at Groovy Net, one of Greece’s first internet service providers, Haris Karonis established Viva Wallet, the first cloud-based neobank in Europe (23 countries) to provide SMEs localized payment and credit services in 2000. In 2005, Haris founded Viva Services, providing a user-friendly and efficient platform for online bookings. Later in 2010, he founded Viva Payments, an innovative payment service offering businesses and professionals maximum security, flexibility, and support. Viva Wallet became a unicorn at the beginning of 2022 after an acquisition agreement with JP Morgan Chase was announced. At the beginning of the year, Viva Wallet sold 49% of its stakes to JP Morgan, reaching an estimated $1.5B valuation.
Makis Antypas - Co-founder & CIO at Viva Wallet
Makis Antypas is a FinTech professional with vast experience designing and implementing large-scale transactional systems for various European industries, including banking, retail, ticketing, and e-commerce. As the CIO at Viva Wallet since 2005 and the CEO of Viva Bank since 2020, Makis is leading the successful development and delivery of innovative payment services within the Viva Wallet group. Makis holds a Master’s degree in Information Systems from The University of Sheffield, and his prior experience includes software engineering and business and web development in the UK. He also acted as an advisor for TEDxAcademy for over seven years.
Mariusz Gralewski - CEO & Founder at DocPlanner
Mariusz Gralewski is the founder and CEO of DocPlanner, a Polish startup that has significantly impacted the healthcare industry. As an entrepreneur with a Computer Science degree, Mariusz had the vision to create a platform that addresses the challenges faced by patients and healthcare professionals, streamlining the process of finding and booking medical appointments. Under his leadership, DocPlanner has become a global platform connecting patients with healthcare providers, offering convenient access to medical services and appointments, exceeding the valuation of $1B in 2021. Today, DocPlanner’s database includes 210,000+ active doctors and 90M patients from 13 countries.
Beniamin Mincu - CEO & Co-Founder at MultiversX (formerly Elrond)
Beniamin Mincu is a software engineer and entrepreneur renowned for his distributed systems and blockchain technology expertise. In 2017, he co-founded and became the CEO of a blockchain platform for distributed apps, enterprise use cases, and the new internet economy, MultiversX, recognized as an unicorn in 2021. Beniamin drives the company’s strategic vision and oversees its day-to-day operations. Before establishing MultiversX, he worked at the world’s first Smart Asset blockchain, NEM, and co-founded a digital asset investment fund to support ambitious teams in the blockchain space.
Lucian Mincu - CIO & Co-Founder at MultiversX (formerly Elrond)
Lucian Mincu is an infrastructure engineer with a diverse background, ranging from developing startup solutions to architecting and implementing intricate infrastructure and network architectures. In 2016, he ventured into the blockchain space and co-founded the digital asset investment fund Metachain Capital with Beniamin and a comprehensive ICO platform called ICO Market Data. Currently, Lucian’s primary focus lies with MultiversX, building the first blockchain architecture engineered for scalability through adaptive state sharding and secure proof of stake.
Lucian Todea - COO & Co-Founder at MultiversX (formerly Elrond)
Lucian Todea is a seasoned tech entrepreneur and investor with over two decades of experience in the Internet and technology sectors. In 2001, at the age of 21, Lucian embarked on his entrepreneurial journey by launching a website that eventually evolved into Soft32.com, a renowned download platform with over 150,000 apps and 10M+ visitors monthly. He currently serves as the COO at MultiversX, contributing his expertise to the growth and success of the company. Lucian has a broad investment portfolio, backing 50+ startups across various tech markets. He also actively participates as a mentor and advisor.